October 1, 2015

3 Reasons Why Today's Horror Films Are Just Not Scary Anymore

So -- why do most horror movies suck so damn much?

Yeah, I'm gonna be blunt about this! If you haven't noticed, analyzing horror films is kind of my thing and pussyfooting around issues isn't. So since it's the first day of the scariest month of the year, why don't we try to figure out why today's horror films leave so much to be desired, and how the concept of "scary" has evolved to mean -- nothing remotely close to that. A number of these reasons are examined in this video by Chris Stuckmann. (Even though the video is almost a year old, the points he brings up are still incredibly relevant.)

Here are the main points Stuckmann brings up in the video. I promise to try to not sound like an old codger.

F**king jump scares

Get off my damn lawn, jump scares! (Sorry -- I knew I promised.) Seriously, Stuckmann wasn't lying when he said that this technique is one of the cheapest you can use in a horror film, and let me tell you why. In fact, I can just recite the little spiel I've been giving to anyone who'd listen to it for the past several years.

Jump scares do not scare. They startle. Being startled is not the same thing as being scared. Being startled is like getting pinched -- the pain is sudden and sharp, but you forget about it immediately. Being scared is like getting stabbed in the gut and having the blade twirl up your intestines like spaghetti -- the pain is -- quite uncomfortable.

I implore all of you horror filmmakers: please, for the love of Michael Meyers, keep your jump scares to a minimum. And if you do use them, do not make us jump because of some cat, bird, or any other nonthreatening thing. Here's one of my favorite examples of a jump scare from Poltergeist.

Mismarketing

How many times have you watched a trailer for a horror film, gone to see said film, and were 100% convinced you entered the wrong theater auditorium. Horror trailers are notoriously misrepresentative of the the films they are supposed to be previewing, which is unfortunate for the filmmakers, because they don't have much control over how their film is marketed.

What mismarketing does is create an expectation in the audience that the film can't fulfill. The example that Stuckmann gives is The Babadook, and I will admit this: I did not want to see this movie after watching the trailer, because I couldn't imagined being scared of a spooky, haunted children's book and a Slenderman knockoff. But, I'm so glad I was convinced to give it a try, because it wasn't at all what the trailer made it out to be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szaLnKNWC-U

Bad horror films can still do great at the box office

There's something inherently wrong with this equation. "Bad" should equal "failure", and "good" should equal "success", but that's just not how it works when it comes to horror films (or any Hollywood films for that matter). Bad scary movies are like loser romantic partners you try to get your friends to break up with. "Come on, this joker is so not worth your time, your money, or your heart." They're so bad, but they still manage to get dates -- and ticket sales. Why? Just -- why?

Conclusion

In my heart of hearts, I want the horror genre to go through some kind of renaissance to get it's s**t together. It's not just the filmmakers, but also the producers and studio execs that need to give credit and respect to their audiences. And audiences -- let's start remembering what "scary" actually is. Can we? Pretty please?     

Your Comment

29 Comments

It costs the same to see the worst and the best films of the year. They don't take your money on the way out.

October 2, 2015 at 12:51AM, Edited October 2, 12:51AM

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I believe the horror movie because of one single reason. This genre is based on supernatural and supernatural beings.

Now with the decline of religion youngsters don't believe in ghosts or evil the way their parents believed in Exorcists.

If there are not enough superstitious people the promise of the story won't work.

October 2, 2015 at 2:29AM, Edited October 2, 2:29AM

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Amir Azizi
Writer Director
109

Really? The decline of religious people? What did religion have to do with Halloween,the thing,alien and pretty much all of the classic horror films that helped define the genre? A good horror film does not depend on superstitious people.

October 3, 2015 at 9:29AM

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I always find it interesting when people turn assumptions into statements of truth. The world today has never been as defined as it is by religious beliefs since perhaps the middle ages. South American people are dedicated to religion, check the stats. North American people way of living is based on Christians values - its politics too - notwithstanding that 70% of the US population claim to be Christians. Russia is deepening into Orthodoxy, South Asia population are either Christians or Muslims. Europe remains Europe, it depends on economic grow. The Middle east...? Well, you know that one and I don't see atheism lurking any time soon. Africa and its 1 billion plus population societies are fundamentally religious. Chinese people are extremely superstitious - maybe that's why they love gambling so much. And for the first time in History the Pope has addressed to Congress which may reveal that conflicts of ideology are intensifying.
So...
As I said, I love assumptions turned into statements of truth. No offense intended to you though, I live in a cosmopolitain city and i'd assume too that the world has evolved.

Now, going back to the article, I think it is an investment issue. Simply put, if something works (aka profitable) then why change it? We went from Hitchcock - a horror movie master who, surprise, didn't use the supernatural element much but rather Psychology, as did Kubrick - to Scary Movie, a paragon of dumbness. But that works, it's cost efficient, no acting required, the script is thin so who cares because it makes money therefore people like it and client is King. But actually, I believe that the real "horror" masterpieces of the last, let's said two decades, do not fall into the horror genre but embrace a wider spectrum of emotions; such as Jurassic Park, Alien of course, Terminator, Looper (a movie of horrific violence, anyone remember that scene where Paul Dano gets chopped off..?), The Matrix (isn't Robot city a Beauty?) and so on... You've got also the critically acclaimed Insidious, The Others, The Sixth Sense, 28 days later and to some extend the aesthetic Silent Hill.

It's a personal opinion but perhaps the Horror genre has dried up. Werewolves, aliens, vampires, demons, The Devil, viruses, sorcerers, scary animals, vilains, AI... All these elements have been already used. Yeah, perhaps it's dried up a little. And for the lack of creativity but because studios ought to keep on producing them for various purposes (Halloween, marketing and because people wanna see a scary movie once in a while), well, we've got not so good Horror genre movies using systemically the same tricks (running off the stairs, scared children, music plays in background, possessions, shadows and... (Fcking) jump scares...)
Time to write something new!!! Let's go people!

October 3, 2015 at 2:16PM, Edited October 3, 2:34PM

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LPhnix
Philo/Wrter/StoryMaker and so on.
166

I can tell you one area that hasn't been overused yet. People are always looking at the antagonist to carry the horror, but really it's the setting that dictates much of the fear factor. For instance, make horror films based in a location where there is no simple escape, and make them claustrophobic. My favourite example of this is the game Penumbra, where you start off in a simple mine in frozen area of Greenland. As the mine goes deeper and deeper it turns into a bizarre facility as you learn the history of the place, being used by the military in WW II and eventually by scientists in later years. In this example, the main enemies are simply wolves, a giant death worm, and extraterrestrials, but each and every one is equally terrifying albeit simple.

January 24, 2016 at 5:56PM

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It has more to do with familiarity and digestibility. The concept of "scary" loses it's value over time due to conditioning, more or less. Computer generated gimmicks rarely help either because it's generally perceived as super-imposed and falsified, further removing the audience from believability. Blood and gore are also rarely deemed "frightening," just rather discomforting or disgusting.

Psychology needs to be embraced more in production and writing than what will sell in a trailer. Jump-scares build intensity, so it's usually sought after, but as you mentioned, it becomes dry. It should be done tastefully. If the film is paranormal or psycho-thriller in nature, then the antagonist ought to be avoided on screen. Let the audience's imagination fill that void.

Comic relief is the worst. You lose momentum as soon as you try to play in awkward humor.

Practical effects and animatronics / puppeteering, etc are far more effective. Of course, acting needs to be on point as well. An actor's behavior in a film needs to be more realistically founded, and not frustratingly turned just to allow for a story to exist in a given environment.

Lighting is important too, obviously. Use it to hide flaws.

Even if the audience doesn't believe in your story, play on natural human fear. Everyone can pretend to be tough, but write something that they go home beating themselves up over. Give enough depth to make it all seem plausible. Paranormal material, while subjective to each individual, is still favorable when it can be executed correctly. Everyone is afraid of what they can't see or understand. We can debate this statement, but curiosity and the rush that comes with it will always be a part of our nature. This can be exploited, but you can't humanize it or bring it to life with predictable or limited actions.

October 2, 2015 at 3:20AM, Edited October 2, 3:20AM

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This is boring

October 2, 2015 at 8:10AM, Edited October 2, 8:10AM

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Josef Lorenzo
Director
426

I totally agree with the main ideas behind this video, though M. Night Shyamalan is a total hack and should be prevented from making any more movies. ( he is the modern day version of Ed Wood, but not in any good way )

October 2, 2015 at 8:57AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30869

Don't mean to take any validity away with this article...but I will say...I think the same can be said for all genres of films. There's plenty of bad ones all the way around. Horror just seems to get bullied more (possibly rightfully so. I don't have much a stance on it). I think there are some gems out there, though. And I am SUPER EXCITED to see The Witch.

October 2, 2015 at 12:19PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1253

Good article. I completely agree with the premise.

Of course, the quality of any horror film starts with the screenplay, and most horror screenplays fail to fully develop the characters. If an audience doesn’t care about the protagonist, it’s hard to feel compelled to find out what happens to that person. So, the result is a film that lacks any substance.

The Exorcist is a character-driven film. That’s why it works so well. Essentially, it’s a drama with horrific elements. So, there’s less of a focus on cheap thrills than there is on the characters and the conflict that they face.

Here’s an article that I wrote about The Exorcist: http://www.scriptologist.com/Magazine/Tips/The_Exorcist_/the_exorcist_.html

October 2, 2015 at 1:19PM

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Glenn Bossik
Videographer
534

My issues with horror. I've grown up. Most movies are aimed at 17 year olds.
The ones being made, in mainstream, are not made by auteurs but by the likes of cash cows trying to hungry-hungry hippo profits.
Last horror films I've enjoyed was the wonky VHS/ VHS2, Rec 2 and Red State.

October 2, 2015 at 1:23PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
1076

Rec 3 was great, especially how pretty it turned out to be after they ditched the found footage format. VHS2 was anchored by that segment with the cult and the apocalypse in Safe Haven by Timo Tjahjanto (who also had the best segment in ABC's of Death) and Gareth Huw Evans - in fact it was probably the greatest bit of horror I've seen in the last 2-3 years or so, like a frantic nightmare come to life.

October 5, 2015 at 7:40PM

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Because horror films shouldn't even exist.

October 3, 2015 at 3:01PM

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Danny Bittman
Director / Writer / Media Composer
180

Oh wow what an insightful response. Really? That's it? They should not even exist?

October 8, 2015 at 7:21PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
505

The reason older movies seem more frightening than the new ones is because we're adults now. We're bigger, more rational and a lot more jaded. It's a lot harder to traumatize us.

October 4, 2015 at 12:46AM

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People overall aren't rational a lot of people lack that quality. I agree a little bit with you but not totally.

October 8, 2015 at 7:22PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
505

The best horror experiences my wife and I have experienced this year have been from Manga and Video Games-

Junji Ito
PT
and Until Dawn

This year brings Crimson Peak and Next year the Witch.
My wife recommends the taking of Deborah Logan, and I agree with her that the best horror movies are born out of low budget cinema- Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch Project.

Was not fussed on the Babadook - the child character made it a hard watch, just like Don't be afraid of the Dark.

Just watched the Uninvited on Criterion - which holds up really well.

Jump Scares too much and is a lazy way of getting an audience reaction, but it just doesn't stick around for that long walk to the car, or when you've finished watching something on TV in the dark and need to walk down a creepy hallway back to the bedroom.

October 5, 2015 at 7:36PM, Edited October 5, 7:36PM

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Have you seen Let The Right One In, We Are What We Are (mexican version), Rec, Martyrs, Moebius? There is great horror out there outside of the mainstream horror movies.

October 8, 2015 at 7:26PM, Edited October 8, 7:26PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
505

Good article! I was literally thinking about this earlier today. My brother sent me a link to the trailer for The Forest and it just seems riddled with jump scares (although I refer to them as "Boo"s) . It really is such a cheap trick that is employed constantly in Horror movies. I agree, hopefully something will change and Horror will revert back to actually being tense and suspenseful rather than an onslaught of 'Boo' moments.

Having said that, a (relatively) recent film "It Follows" I thought was done very well.

October 7, 2015 at 5:39AM

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Dan Bennett
Videographer
83

Also audiences have been affected by those things that a lot of them think horror movies filled with jump scares is good horror and then they see something actually good from the genre and they say it's not good.

October 8, 2015 at 7:27PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
505

Yes - "Jump Scares" ? Enough already

October 9, 2015 at 9:44AM

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This was so highly necessary, thank you so much for making this video. My God. I saw Annabelle last year and was BLOWN AWAY by what garbage that was. But more importantly, can I just say it here...

CAN SOMEONE MAKE M NIGHT STOP MAKING MOVIES?!?

The Visit, a film I was dying to love, was such a premature, amateur piece of filth. It had the same set up that every horror film seems to have these days: 15 minutes of god awful "I attended a really expensive film school" dialogue followed by 5 seconds of a moderate, but enormously overused jump scare. And here's the scariest part: If you're only as good as your last movie, and the last FIVE movies he's made were so embarrassingly bad, WHO IS SAYING "You know what? We might have a hit on our hands!" Shame on Blumhouse, I really like those guys, but this...I don't know. Does Coca Cola have ownership now? Ugh. The greatest enemies of America are Kim Kardashian, M Night Shamalalalaman, and Justin Bieber.

It's our job, ladies and gents. It's our job to take back the great art of cinema.

October 11, 2015 at 9:35AM

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Brad Bingham
Actor/Writer/Filmmaker
182

Oh, come on. The problem is you. You sound like a vegan complaining that people eat meat. We would all be better off if everyone ate a nice raw diet chased with 8 cups of water. Most people are still going to eat pre-frozen cheeseburgers, fries, and too many Bud lights.

We should celebrate that somehow a country with 2/3state of California managed to raise $2,000,000 to make a good movie. That cool $2 Mil could have gone to one of the films that you hate, but most people like.

October 16, 2015 at 12:31PM

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Brian
163

Dont worry man, Ill be the worlds best movie director and will make the good horror movies. :)

May 17, 2016 at 2:38PM, Edited May 17, 2:38PM

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I completely agree 110% with this. That's why i don't respect many horror films because they keep relying on the same cheap cliche low-rate tactics. Jump "scares" are nothing more than a flinch response period. They don't scare anyone really. They just make you jump because it's a natural body reaction. They also rely too much on sex, gore, and the same old kinds of stupid characters. Those kinds of horror films are like trends that you are hyped up for one year then forget about it after you watch it. Memorable horror films rely on themes, ideas, characters, terror, plot, and symbols. If you want to further discuss horror and what i consider great horror then feel free to check out my blog below:

http://artfromthehumansoul.blogspot.com/

June 25, 2016 at 6:00PM, Edited June 25, 6:00PM

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Isaiah
81

I think that the writer makes several good points.
Jump scares are cheap, and are often used to much and in the wrong ways.
Horror movies are mismarketed.
And bad horror movies do to well at the box office. Probably because the people born after the year 2000 often don't know a good horror film if it came up and bit them.

I have several ideas on what makes the modern horror movie so awful.

1) They rely to much on blood and gore. My biggest pet peeve is going into a theater to watch a horror movie and only feeling grossed out from the endless sea of blood and guts. Gore does not make a horror movie, only a discusting one when used to often. Instead too much takes away from the film as the viewers become distracted or to grossed out to watch the movie. It's fine to use a little blood or gore when used appropriately. Many great scary movies use little to no blood at all; such as The Birds, Psycho, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the originals). Blood is an effect not the rule.

2) They are trying to crate to many remakes and expecting them to be as good as the original. Too often I hear that a certain movie is getting a remake and I often squirm at the thought rather than be excited about it. Usually if a movie is getting a remake it is because the original is a great movie and there is nothing that can actually be approved upon. Another problem with remakes is that they lack any sort of originality. A remake means that it's already been done before. Remakes often lack plot or consistency because the producers often think that they are guaranteed to do good due to the number of fans for the originals; remakes are often schemes to get quick money. An example of a terrible remake was 2015's Poultergeist. I went to the theater to see if it was any good, I was severely disappointed. It lacked any real plot and constituency. The acting was terrible. Pacing was bad, and the only thing scary was the jump scares, every one of witch were revealed in the trailers. The original was great, but this was just a stain on its name.

I'm not totally against remakes. If don't right they can be great. They need to follow the original but spice it up with modern problem, without taking away from what made the original 'good' in the first place. Treat the movie as if it was an original so that the people involved take it seriously. A great example of a good remake is the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Some other issues that ruin horror movies are:
Trailers reveal to much.
No twists. A good horror movie usually has a good twist.
Awful plot or inconsistent story telling.
Bad acting or characters
And CGI. Yes CGI can ruin a film. Producers can often ivest so much into special effects that they fail to put money into writing or getting good acting. Having to many special effects also takes away from the viewers involvement with the film. Instead use less special effects or hint at them to let the viewer fill in the blanks with their imagination. Then they feel like their in the film itself, and actually channel the emotions better.

August 8, 2016 at 10:48PM

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Horror is incredibly subjective. So many elements have to come together in order for it to run smoothly. I think the biggest challenges are oldest:
Can the director establish and maintain tension cinematically?
AND
Can the director/screenwriter/actors create a story with characters that we can actually in emotionally?
Sure overuse of jump scares are predictable and obnoxious, but I'm willing to bet that The Conjuring had just as many "jump scares" as Annabelle. In fact I'd bet money somewhere inside BlumHouse theres a template recommending how many often there needs to be a "jump scare". The reason The Conjuring was better was because it had a better story, better characters, and was more satisfying emotionally. Horror movies need to be built around strong characters, but usually we get weak or under written characters that only exist to serve the premise.

October 24, 2016 at 2:16AM

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Ben Kelly
Director/Writer/Editor
74

I for one am not a particular horror movie buff, there's a ton of recent horror flicks that I still haven't seen. And yet, from what I have seen, there have been in this decade, and most certainly in this century, some quite scary and dreadful horror films. Here, I'd single out projects that had Larry Fessenden involved, like The Innkeepers and We Are Still Here etc.

October 24, 2016 at 6:04AM, Edited October 24, 6:04AM

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I cant agree more!!!

October 24, 2016 at 10:17AM

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Dee Horvath
Project Manager - Graphic Designer - CGI Artist
67